Restaurants: Pub rockers
Queen's Roger Taylor famously wanted to break free ... maybe owning his own Surrey pub will do it. Photographs by Darren Regnier
Saturday 06 March 1999
The Swan at Chiddingfold even has Queen's Roger Taylor as its major investor, and two of the four owners of the Lickfold Inn, in nearby Lickfold, are the managers of Genesis and Pink Floyd. Their involvement is not advertised, however, so don't come looking for Roger Dean menu covers and rock-star paraphernalia. At the Lickfold, the only instruments on view are blunt, agricultural ones on a windowsill in the pub dining room, which is furnished with a handsome assortment of benches and tables more antique-looking than the usual job-lot from another village church or school that's lost its flock to spiritual advisers and prep schools. Look closely and it appears that a lot of money has been spent to seem as if it hasn't, though details like the Molton Brown products in the ladies' loo give away the Marie Antoinette's dairy character of this impeccably tasteful take on a country pub.
With white tablecloths and pictures of spaniels and soldiers, The Swan is putting its neck even more on the line with what it calls an Edwardian dining room. The menu's that much more fancy-sounding, too. Warm cracknel salad using Parma ham for crackling? How wasteful, chided our house-husband friend who keeps a stricter eye on the budget than most of the neighbours. They'd also splashed out on the balsamic vinegar in a squid, chorizo and rocket salad, again showing a disregard for local produce but a knowledge of modern European restaurant assemblies.
This was Sunday lunchtime, when publicans traditionally show Christian charity by putting out bowls of peanuts on the bar; here there were onion bhajees and olives instead. The inevitable beef, well marbled with fat, was more sensitively cooked than usual. The lamb shank, however, took some work to liberate the meat from the bone, although the butter beans underneath weren't too resistant. The mass of vegetables included floppy parsnips and rather hard roast potatoes. Perhaps, as is also traditional for a Sunday, the head chef was having time off.
Two tarts for afters: one filled with fruit crumble and the other chocolate - very fine of its type. These, and the successful salady starters, gave the impression the cooking might be more consistent during the rest of the week, although the spelling wasn't. Surely they mean porcini oil not porcine.
The clientele was not particularly porcine, but as geriatric as the interior design - clearly not there on the off chance that Roger Taylor would drop in to shoot the breeze on a leather Chesterfield in the bar. Their hostility towards our free-range children, though, was more than made up for by lovely waitresses.
The Lickfold Inn was better equipped to cope with the younger generation, and on a Friday lunch at half-term had a range of ages from babes-in-arms upwards. This time I'd got shot of my own, but the well-mannered eight-year-old who came with one companion was tidily sick (before lunch) outside in the car park.
Here, too, they're defying the "buy local" lobby, with blackboard specials of pan-fried foie gras with caramelised onions, and Asian pork belly with pickled cabbage and mash, but scratch the surface, and the kitchen is mostly using good local ingredients, cooking them soundly and adding a smattering of imports.
So you'll get crispy duck pancake, but with home-made plum chutney. My starter of scallops had a homely base - buttery shredded leeks with bacon - with four just-blackened scallops; goat's cheese crostini, with wild mushrooms, frisee and pinenuts was bubbling-brown cheese on toast, and parsnip soup was as cockle-warming as the cracking fire in the inglenook. Shame the "Italian-style breads baked daily in our wood-fired oven" were cold enough to have come from the fridge rather than the oven that morning.
The underlying neo-yeoman heartiness is emphasised by the size of the main courses. Portions are profligate, as you might expect when profit is probably not the owners' only motive. There was so much liver on a mound of mashed potato and bacon that it was hard to believe it was calf's and not lamb's. Smoked-fish pie seemed to include the extravagant (and unnecessary) addition of tuna. "You can tell this place is owned by four millionaires," said the child's mother, outfaced by its richness. Skate, so fresh and in so much brown butter it could have swum away, with capers and sage leaves, also put paid to the idea of anything else, though the sickly child recovered enough to refuse to share his sticky-toffee pudding.
To return to the unforgettable lyrics of "Killer Queen". Guaranteed to blow your mind? Not quite. But for the pounds 25 that each pub charged for lunch, the Lickfold particularly is recommended at the price
The Swan, Petworth Road, Chiddingfold, Surrey (01428 682073). Tue-Sun lunch, Tue-Sat dinner. Average pounds 20 without drinks. Mastercard and Visa. The Lickfold Inn, Lickfold, near Lodsworth, Petworth (01798 861285). Tue- Sun lunch and dinner in pub, Wed-Sat dinner in restaurant. Average pounds 18.50 in pub, pounds 25 in restaurant. Amex, Mastercard, Visa accepted.
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